Travelers to South Africa usually fly into OR Tambo in Johannesburg, but that’s where their experience of the city tends to end. Either they request to have the quickest transfer flight out of Johannesburg to Cape Town, the Garden Route or Durban or they hop into their rental car to explore Kruger National Park. This is not surprising, as for years, the city has had a reputation for being dangerous, dirty and uninspiring. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are some reasons why visitors should at least spend a few days in this vibrant young city in Africa:

1. Explore the city’s apartheid past: Nowhere can the story of South Africa's turbulent past and its extraordinary transition to democracy be told as well as it is at Constitution Hill, located in Braamfontein. Constitution Hill is now home to the Constitutional Court, but it used to house the notorious Old Fort prison complex, a high security prison built in the 1890s where historic figures such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were held. There are various tours of the precinct, including a Time Travel tour, an interactive, experiential tour that gives visitors a firsthand experience of life behind the cells in the apartheid days.

For a further glimpse into South Africa’s apartheid past, a visit to the Apartheid Museum should be in the cards. Visitors to the museum are greeted with a very real reflection of what it was like to live in a racially segregated society. The museum has two entrances labeled "White" and "Non-white," and depending on which ticket you are issued, you will be ushered through one of the two.

2. Uncover the origins of mankind. If you want to step a bit further back in time to the beginnings of mankind, you will need to head to Maropeng, the official Visitor Centre of the Cradle of Humankind located just one hour from Johannesburg. The exhibition center takes visitors on a journey of discovery to learn more about the origins of humankind and is housed in the Tumulus, an unusual architectural structure resembling an ancient burial mound. Just a few weeks ago, historians even discovered a “new” human species at Maropeng, the Homo Naledi.

3. Walk through the heart of the city. The best way to explore a city is undoubtedly by foot. Johannesburg is no different, which is why there are now a number of tour companies who have established interesting walking tours of the city.

Past Experiences (pastexperiences.co.za) has a great number of tours on offer, such as for example the Creative Jozi, Public Art Tour, a leisurely walk around the inner city focusing on the wonderful array of public art in the central business district; Mandela’s Joburg; a shopping tour; and even an inner-city pub crawl. These tours will take visitors to areas of the city that have undergone a complete transformation from dangerous slums to trendy urban cultural precincts. Newtown is one such example, as is Braamfontein.

Mainstreetwalks (http://www.mainstreetwalks.co.za/) is another concept that encourages people to rediscover the inner city on foot. Visitors will be able to discover the Maboneng Precinct, a fully integrated urban neighborhood on the east side of the central business district. 

4. Explore Soweto by bike. South Africa’s most renowned township is undoubtedly Soweto. Few places in the world can tell you so much about a continent’s and a country’s history like Soweto can. And what better way to explore this fascinating township than by bike?

Go out with local guides for a half- or a full-day cycling tour around the community and get to know what makes this township unique. Have a taste of Soweto: eat a kota, a local street-food burger, and stop at a shebeen to enjoy a beer with the people. Go home with a different perception of the township. (http://www.sowetobicycletours.com/)

If you want to stay the night in Soweto after your cycle tour, Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is a fantastic option (www.sowetobackpackers.co.za). It is a welcoming place where people mingle and interact in the streets. You will get many opportunities to meet people and get to know more about life in Soweto.

5. Taste the city’s cuisine. Jo-burg’s restaurant scene is thriving, and the city is home to some of the most fantastic ethnic eateries and local foodie markets.

Wandie's Place in Soweto, a soul food restaurant that used to be a shebeen.
Wandie's Place in Soweto, a soul food restaurant that used to be a shebeen.

Market on Main, taking place on Sundays at Arts on Main in downtown Johannesburg, has become a trendy and popular market. It was developed with Jozi’s trendy, inner-city lifestyle in mind and is a space in the Maboneng Precinct where Gauteng-based food and design enthusiasts can hang out and sell their products. Sample chili relishes, pickles, pates, cheeses, brownies, cupcakes and cookies as well as Ethiopian, Moroccan, Chinese, Italian and Indian food.

Situated near the Market on Main is a little restaurant that is definitely worth a stop: Little Addis. Located at Fox Street Studios, this eatery serves up their popular plates as well as a few other Ethiopian specials to the hungry Maboneng masses.

The Neighbourhoodgoods Market has become the place to be on Saturdays. Housed in a modernist building that has a spectacular 15-story wall mural by the artist Eduardo Villa, the market is as much a source for farm fresh foods and specialty goods as it is a meeting point to enjoy community, swap ideas and stories and be inspired by the energy that makes Jo-burg.

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